Ranked Choice Voting in Oakland
Submitted to Portside by the Author
By Jonathan Nack
March 13, 2010
It's been an eventful week in Oakland and the East Bay.
On Fri. Nov. 5, two important events occurred. First,
the sentencing in the murder trial of Oscar Grant in
which Officer Johannes Mesherle was sentenced to only
two years, with credit for time served. This is for
shooting Grant, an unarmed young Black man, in the back
while another officer was holding Grant face down on
the platform of the Fruitvale BART station.
The sentence was not a surprise, so a mass rally
organized in advance drew hundreds to downtown Oakland
to express their outrage. The rally was excellent, and
a march led by young militants who took to the streets
after the rally drew a lot of police attention. The
cops ended up arresting over 150.
Also, Fri., Nov. 5, the Registrar of Voters announced
that Councilmember Jean Quan had taken the lead in the
unofficial count of the race for Mayor of Oakland.
This was the first Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) election
in Oakland. (RCV is a form of Instant Runoff Voting.)
Quan was up against one of the most powerful and
connected politicians in California, former State
Senator Don Perata.
Perata was the President of the California Senate, but
was termed out of office. He has a long political
career in Oakland. His connections across the state
means that Perata has big money behind him and he
obliterated all spending records for Mayor of Oakland
and was considered a heavy favorite. There were eight
other candidates, including Councilmember Rebecca
Kaplan, who also had substantial support.
On Mon., Nov. 7, the Bay Area received news that
another unarmed Black man had been shot and killed in
Oakland, this time by two Oakland Police officers.
On Tues., Nov. 8, the Oakland City council passed two
important ordinances. One to implement a municipal
I.D. card, which is something immigrant rights
activists have pushed for. Many immigrants are unable
to obtain a California Drivers License or California
I.D. The new Oakland I.D. will enable immigrants and
others who can't obtain a state I.D. a valuable
official I.D. card. The Council left the door open for
other uses for the card, including using it's digital
capability for financial transactions, and there is a
innovative proposal to establish an Oakland currency
using the cards.
The second, which was actually a pair of ordinances
passed at by the Council regarding the taxation of
sales of marijuana by the many medical marijuana
dispensaries and allow for medical marijuana farms, in
Oakland. These moves, supported by dispensaries, will
bring in valuable new revenue to Oakland.
On Thursday, Nov. 11, it was announced that Jean Quan
had officially won the election for Mayor. Quan will
be the first Asian American to head a major city, and
will be Oakland's first woman mayor. The mainstream
corporate media actually covered the story correctly,
that it was RCV which enabled Quan to win. She had
benefited immensely from the second and third place
votes from Kaplan and all the other candidates.
This was a fabulous demonstration of how RCV is a
reform that can open up the electoral process and allow
voters and candidates to gang up on the candidate with
the big moneyed interests behind them.
While Quan, Perata, and Kaplan are all Democrats, Quan
has deep roots in the East Bay left, going back to
being an anti-Vietnam war activist at U. C. Berkeley.
She's moderated her politics significantly since those
days, but she's both more progressive than Perata, less
beholden to developers and corporate lobbyists (at
least for the time being), and more open to working
with and supporting local progressive and left
organizations. Her election will also further empower
the Asian American community in Oakland, which is large
and growing, with a substantial number of immigrants.
It took us more than 15 years to win RCV in Oakland (a
system now used by Bay Area cities S. F., Berkeley, and
Hayward). It demonstrated in this election that it was
Incidentally, in another important East Bay election,
Richmond Mayor Gail McLaughlin was re-elected. She is
Green Party and has helped build a powerful local
electoral coalition called the Richmond Progressive
Alliance. Richmond is a working class city where a
majority are people of color. It is also the home of a
huge Chevron refinery. McLaughlin survived a vicious
personal attack which was well funded - probably by
There will be a conference this coming Saturday - the
West Coast Congress of the People/Congreso Popular,
which will be in S. F. on Nov. 20.
There are many other things percolating in the Bay Area
right now. It's a heady time.
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